Spike was lost. More so than he had ever been before. Even as William, that shy and confused human boy of so long ago, he had never been so frightened and unsure of his path. He needed a distraction. To unleash his tangled emotions with fists and fangs, to stop the vicious round and round of his brain with the stalk and the attack and the fury of punches that bruised and bloodied his knuckles.
But it was a stupid thing to do. To go looking for a fight in his condition. He was starved, weakened, and more shook up than he could ever remember being in his entire existence. He could've gone to Willy's and gotten plastered, could've gone to the hospital and swiped a few bags of B positive, could've just gone home and paced the stone floor of his crypt, but instead he'd gone back to the cemeteries, haunted the side alleys of the Hellmouth until he'd found what he was looking for.
For a while it worked. He beat down the fear and the uncertainty alongside the pair of demons he'd caught emerging from a human crack house; an oddity in Sunnydale to be sure, but not unheard of. It was a rough fight despite his being a Master Vampire, and exactly what he needed in that moment. Two against one, they were both bigger and more muscular than he, but he held his own until four of their friends joined them in the street. Then he found himself in serious trouble. Weaponless and without backup, he was beaten to within an inch of his undead life and left for whatever carnivorous thing next came along.
Lying on his back, for the time being unable to move, Spike reveled in the screaming agony that laced through his body. This he knew. He understood physical pain, what caused it and how he could fix it. Content to watch the colors exploding beneath his eyelids, his mind twirled lazily, unable to focus on anything but the searing ache that consumed him. When a familiar scent fell over him, sweeping up his shattered nose and setting his scattered mind into a tailspin until he placed it, he couldn't decide whether he was lucky or whether he'd rather just wait for the sun. It was the sudden thought of Dawn that the scent recalled, the thought of Buffy and how much the two sisters needed him, that forced him back into himself, driving away any vaguely suicidal apathy.
"Sir, if you can hear me, we need to get you inside," a voice sounded desperately in his ear. "The sun is almost up and you can't stay here."
Spike tried to respond but his mouth wouldn't work, his jaw dislocated and his throat crushed under someone's boot. His breath was wheezing in and out in a way that told him one of several broken ribs had pierced a lung, and every bit of his body trembled beneath the hesitant hands that gently flexed his legs, folding them at the knees and checking along his shins for breaks.
"My nest is not far from here Sir. If you can manage to help, even a little, we can get you there, but I cannot carry you myself."
Spike could only nod, sucking in a great gulp of air and pushing himself to his hands and knees, biting back a scream of agony. He hadn't been this close to death since Glory, and though he had sought the pain this time, was grateful for it even as he suffered, there was only so much his body could handle before it gave. Luckily for him, a pair of strong hands was there to pull him up, looping his arm over broad shoulders and hauling him on stumbling feet over the cracked sidewalk. Eyes swollen shut, he followed blindly, putting what diminutive trust he still had to give in the little Genthos demon he had only just met. He didn't really have a choice. This was perhaps one of the greatest mistakes he had ever made. The searing sensation that hummed on the back of his neck heralding sunrise mockingly agreed.
"Almost there Sir," the Genthos panted at his side.
They paused and Spike heard the creak of a heavy stone door, cool darkness falling over him as the demon hauled him inside. He would have collapsed right there, his body draped over the threshold, but the Genthos kept on, now their only source of motion as he dragged Spike's half-conscious weight across the floor, his hands fisted in the shoulders of his duster.
"Watch the leather," Spike mumbled incoherently, the words like glass in his throat.
He must have managed to force them out, because a half-stifled chuckle rumbled above him from inside a deep chest. To his eternal relief, his broken body was finally laid to rest over a wide, flat stone, not the most uncomfortable place he had ever lain. Off to his right he could hear the faintest scritching sounds, like leaves in autumn as they blew across the pavement. Spike's senses screamed as the presence of several demons stalked forward, no doubt the rest of the boy's nest. Reaching out, he clutched the Genthos' wrist in a crushing grip, a pained snarl rumbling out of his broken chest in warning. A calming touch on his shoulder had him releasing the boy, who moved away to head off the group that slowly stalked towards the injured vampire.
"Jhexel, what have you done?" a raspy voice questioned ominously.
"Roxis," Spike's Genthos began, his voice low to the ground as he presented himself prostrate before his clan master. "He requires our aid. If we are to ask…"
Suddenly Spike's ears were filled with violent hisses and rattles, a vicious argument carried out in a language that even he didn't know. Then there was the sound of flesh striking flesh and the boy cried out, the wounded vampire snarling in vain with the abruptly protective urge that surged inside of him for the young male who had offered him asylum. The fight was over almost as soon as it began, a threatening silence filling up the air, until a dark voice rumbled out its decree,
"You have betrayed the orders of your Roxis and of your clan, Jhexel son of Mirin. From this day you are no longer welcome in this nest."
Dawn came awake slowly as the sun splashed across her face from between the curtains. For a moment she was confused, the quilt that covered her and the ceiling above her not her own. Then she remembered. Buffy. Buffy was alive! Rolling over, she almost fell out of the bed. Her sister sat cross legged atop the covers, watching her intently with head cocked, her silence terribly unnerving for the teenager.
"Umm, Buffy?" she asked, pushing back a bit.
She smiled widely at the sound of her name, clapping her hands and bouncing on the mattress. Dawn's heart fell. Apparently the good night's sleep in her own bed had not been the cure all she'd hoped it would be. Checking the alarm clock, Dawn decided not to wake Willow and Tara just yet, but to see if she couldn't get Buffy into the shower herself. Rummaging through the dresser, she found a pair of basketball shorts and an oversized t shirt at the very bottom. She had no idea where they had come from; perhaps they were Xander's, but she had no doubt that Buffy wouldn't be caught dead in the outfit. However, they would be easy to force her into, and that was enough for Dawn. Turning to find Buffy only inches away, watching her with a childlike curiosity and a smile that bordered on creepy, Dawn jumped and decided that she didn't feel so bad about the clothes.
"So not liking the new you Buffy," she said sadly. "Wouldn't you rather be you again? You know, the annoying you that tells me to do my homework, and not to leave my dirty socks on the stairs?"
Buffy's only response was to giggle and pat the top of Dawn's head with one flat palm.
"Come on then," Dawn sighed, taking her hand and leading her across the hallway. "Let's get you cleaned up."
It was harder than she thought it would be. In the end she had to leave the curtain open because Buffy would panic when she pulled it closed, clawing at the material and fighting to get out. Eventually Dawn just climbed into the tub with her, scrubbing her down efficiently while Buffy happily popped the soap bubbles that clung to her skin. Making sure she had rinsed all the shampoo from Buffy's dark hair, she helped her out of the tub and wrapped her in a big fluffy towel, using three others to mop up that lake that had formed on the floor and to dry out her own hair. Then she picked up the clothes and prepared for her second battle.
"Come on Buffy," she said cajolingly, as though she were trying to catch a puppy who'd gotten hold of a shoe and knew enough to run the other way. "Let's get you dressed."
Buffy took one look at the big blue t-shirt in her sister's hands, the pocket on the chest proclaiming it menswear, and frowned deeply, shaking her head hard.
"Great," Dawn grumbled. "Kept your sense of fashion, but not your memory."
Shaking the shirt at Buffy like a bullfighter's cape, Dawn took one slow step forward. "Come on Buffy. You gotta get dressed. We're gonna go see Giles. Remember Giles? He's kinda like our dad. He's gonna be really happy to see you. Won't that be nice?"
Dawn lunged forward in an attempt to loop the short over her sister's head like a lasso, but Buffy dodged, giggling as she circled away. Dawn debated going to get Tara to help her, but she had the feeling that ganging up on Buffy wouldn't be of the good. The only person she'd probably take orders from was…
Dawn smiled with sudden inspiration. "Buffy," she wheedled, holding up the shirt. "Spi… erm, I mean, Will'em's coming to see you. Don't you want to get dressed up for him?"
"Will'em?" Her first word of the morning, the light in Buffy's eyes told Dawn she was on the right track.
"He's gonna be here soon," Dawn nodded, "But you can't go down and see him unless you get dressed. So put these clothes on ok?" Taking a slow step forward, she was rewarded by Buffy taking one as well, bringing them face to face. "That's it," she said softly, holding the shirt open and helping to guide Buffy's arms through the holes. "You'll look so nice for him!"
The baskeball shorts followed, slipping easily up Buffy's hips where Dawn pulled the drawstring tight and double-looped the knot. Underwear and a bra were not going to happen unless she got some help, and it would be best for everyone to avoid unfortunate accidents. Dressed well enough, she directed her sister down onto the lip of the tub and grabbed a hairbrush, attempting to pull it slowly through Buffy's tangled hair. The girl immediately fought against the tugging, reaching out to slap at Dawn's hands, but she quickly calmed her.
"It's ok," she shushed, holding the brush out for her to examine. Buffy reached out a forefinger and pushed at the springy bristles before sticking the finger into her mouth and sucking on it. "That's right,' Dawn cajoled. "Just gonna brush your hair, make it nice and pretty for Will'em." Easing her hand back up to Buffy's hair, this time she was allowed to continue, combing through the locks until every tangle was gone and her hair gleamed long and softly waving.
"There," Dawn said, satisfied with her results. Picking Buffy up, she guided her over to the mirror, where the two sisters stared at their side-by-side reflections for some time. "Good as new," Dawn whispered, a tear running silently down her cheek.
Turning, Buffy reached out and touched a finger to her cheek, smoothing away the saltwater. "Smile Dawnie," she said, her eyes suddenly clear and focused. "Don't be sad."
"Buffy?" Dawn asked, only half hopeful.
Hazel eyes went blank again, and the girl smiled. "Stuffy, fluffy, Buffy," she giggled.